Archiving mental health symptoms using new technology.

Reblogged from

Thank you to everyone who packed out my talks at the Science Museum, London on the 25th April. We were full to capacity each time and I am sorry if you are one of the people that we had to turn away. I will be doing more public writing and speaking on archiving mental health using new technologies very soon.

Meantime you can listen to me give a version of the talk on SoundCloud above or download a copy of a paper that I produced using material I presented during the talk Archiving Mental Health Using New Technologies Although please read this with the understanding that it is intended as a micro version of arguments I am working on for my thesis and not a coherent paper in its own right! As ever, your feedback would be appreciated.

The key objective of this body of research, is to consider how new technologies might provide the tools for authoring alternative perspectives, on the emotional and subjective experience of mental ill health. Primarily it asserts that the practice of writing about first person experiences of mental illness online (for example on a blog or a social networking site) is a therapeutic process. Concurrently, it also suggests that the existence of such online testimonies has the capacity to open up discourses around illness that sit in opposition to the jargonistic and occasionally authoritarian languages of the medical profession, and psychoanalytic practice. Ultimately this research poses wider contextual questions about how good the use of communication technology is for our mental health, and the extent to which we ought to act to preserve and archive digital, web based testimony about emotional distress.

Screen Cap of Vanessa Bartlett's Sound Cloud file of her presentation "Archiving Mental Health Symptoms Using New Technology"

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Categories: Phenomenology


I am an art writer, academic and producer. I work across visual art, performance art and digital cultures. My writing has featured in The Guardian and I have given talks and lectures in far away places like Belgrade, Ljubljana and Helsinki, as well as at fine British institutions like Tate Liverpool and The Science Museum, London.

3 Comments on “Archiving mental health symptoms using new technology.”

  1. Thursday, 19 July 2012 at 04:19 UTC #

    Wow VB, this is such a wonderful talk, filled with so many compelling ideas – thank you so much for sharing it with us!

    I love the idea that blogs, social networks, etc can both provide theraputic process and research material. I’m really not informed about the mental health industry, but my pop culture sense is that there are patients often rather concerned about their circumstances, researchers spending countless hours trying to tease out causality, and that stuck in the middle is the clinician who, regardless of the level of their personal empathy, is tasked by an overloaded system to move through so many patients so quickly. So there may be many parties willing to put in significant time, but the “point person” finds that almost impossible. If 1st person documentary activities can enrich this process it seems very promising.

    Also, as you suggest, such a process creates ties and in it’s publicness is inclusive, rather than the segretating process of one patient, one diagnosis, buried in a file system. Have your read Jeff Jarvis book Public Parts? It’s not about mental health, but I do think he explores related themes:

    No doubt many patients have been treated as a disease rather than a human being, but there certainly many competing approaches. In his critique of the medical model in his book Awakenings Oliver Sacks explores the out-of-fashion-in-the-20th-century ideas of the nature and constitution of the individual. Sacks quotes W. H. Auden, “Healing, Papa would tell me, is not a science, but the intuitive art of wooing nature.” He also uses another quotation which I unfortunately can’t find… something like, Don’t tell me what disease the patient has, rather tell me what patient the disease has.

    It’s so serendipitous that you talk about how historically accounts of mental health have been described from the POV of the clinician – IDK if you had a chance to notice it, but the post just immediately before yours, Kathleen Cool’s “The Power of Touch” includes Temple Grandin and the idea that she has become so popular, in part, because she can describe autism from a lived perspective rather than from the perspective of the external observer.

    Hahaha, yes of course that rat bastard Freud used people to prove his theories rather than to improve their lives! 😛

    Oh, BTW minor point: as best I know your description of the DSM is accurate, but I’d add (if I recall correctly) that it’s also significant in that a physician “needs” to find a DSM “code” for their patient as it is the way they get paid for treating them.

    Your description of how the computer mediates our mental lives, and of User B being comforted by online peeps is so powerful in this time. I think research in many different areas is all exploring aspects of this and I hope that there will be talented “research integrators” able to take work from many fields and tie concepts together to create both new tools and new understandings.

    Thanks VB! This is very compelling work. I hope you’ll keep us updated on it.

    Also please do check out what Kathleen’s been posting, I think you could have some nice interactions with her.

  2. katcool
    Thursday, 19 July 2012 at 16:17 UTC #

    Your research sounds absolutely fascinating, Vanessa!!! I would love to hear more about it. As an educator with a deep interest in online and virtual learning, I have experienced the power of self-reflection first hand. When first introducing undergraduate students to SL, one of the assignments was to write an autobiographical narrative of their in-world lived experience. Ultimately, whether that experience was good or not, the opportunity to reflect on their experience and conceptualize it into a first person narrative not only reinforced what they learned from the experience, but also provided a sense of closure. As the instructor, it also provided an additional evaluation of students’ progress, learning styles, potential of SL as a formal learning space, as well as providing feedback on my teaching style. Anyways… enough about me! I can’t wait to hear more about the kinds of results you are getting! The application of technology to mental illness and learning disabilities is so promising. Keep up the good work!!!!!


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